I personally dislike the idea that you have to have a side project. I changed careers -- from art into tech -- and so my personal time is spent on my personal creative projects, which don't always involve coding. This works for me! I find that if I do all of one thing all the time I get burnt out much faster, and it takes some of the enjoyment out of it. Having a break is important. Having time where you aren't working and can recharge is important and helpful to prevent burnout. While some people may find side projects provide that benefit since they chose the project, not everyone does.
Also, when you have a family you don't see 9-5, I'd rather spend my time with them than more hours at my desk.
It doesn’t have to be a coding project.
As a personal anecdote: during an interview, I was asked about side projects, but at the moment I was not doing much. So I told them about how I was a cartoonist for the university newspaper, and explained how I did things, the process, etc. They hired me, and whenever there was a more creative opportunity, they thought of me because (half serious-half joking) I was the cartoon-guy. That small note in my resume made a mark they remembered.
Haha, that's fair! I think it depends on the company culture too. When I was first transitioning into tech especially I got really nervous about talking about anything non-technical because I thought technical was all they were interested in. Some only want to know you can get the job done. But some company cultures are a lot more open to knowing the other stuff you like. (Honestly, those tend to be better companies to work for too in my experience!)
I'm inclined to agree. When I was much younger and newer to the field, I found it beneficial to do little else but build things but now my job is more demanding (and I learn a lot on the job) I find it more beneficial to get away from the computer for both a mental and physical break. I prioritise fitness because back when I did little else but work and study I developed horrible back pain problems at the age of 20 (which I now rarely have, aged nearly 30 and much fitter). Plus doing other things with your brain (such as creative projects, learning a hobby skill, or hey just binging on movies or reading books) helps stop the mental exhaustion that doing the same type of thing all the time can bring.
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